The Brain That Changes Itself – Introduction

Our last post on Brain Research was the final of fifteen posts from Dr. Jane Healy’s book Endangered Minds.  We did not move those from the blog on our website so you can go there to read : http://www.centerforneurodevelopment.com (scroll down on left)

We now embark on another journey in Brain Research by reading through: The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, M.D. (Penquin Books, 2007)  In this book, Doidge shares with his readers many true accounts of patients who were thought to have incurable brain damage, and yet without treatment, surgery or medication, their brains’ function improved.  “The common wisdom was that after childhood the brain changed only when it began the long process of decline; that when brain cells failed to develop properly, or were injured, or died, they could not be replaced.  Nor could the brain ever alter its structure and find a new way to function if part of it was damaged.” P. xvii-xviii

This common wisdom was based on three major sources:

1) brain-damaged patients were not improving
2) we could not observe the brain’s microscopic activity
3) the idea that the brain was a ‘glorious machine’ – machines do not change and grow

When Doidge, a research psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, became interested in this area when he heard that perhaps the brain was not “hard-wired” after all.  Beginning in the late 1960s he traveled and worked with other scientists.  Their surprising discoveries led them to begin using the term: neuroplasticity (neuro – meaning neuron – a nerve cell in brain and plastic meaning ‘changeable, malleable, modifiable”)

Doidge said, “The idea that the brain can change its own structure and function through thought and activity is, I believe, the most important alteration in our view of the brain since we first sketched out its basic anatomy and workings of its basic component, the neuron. Like all revolutions, this one will have profound effects, and this book, I hope, will begin to show some of them.” P. xx

The concept of neuroplasticity is the foundation on which the neurodevelopmental approach rests.  With this foundation we can give people hope.  With specific stimulation missing pieces in development can be stimulated. This is one reason why we do not diagnose or provide labels in our evaluations. Labels, while thought to be helpful in obtaining services, they are generally arrived at by a list of symptoms / behaviors. This can affect our expectations. Rather than expecting symptoms to be eliminated or behaviors changed, we often think, “My child has dyslexia so she will not read well.”  Let us remember that our brains can be stimulated to encourage development.

What do you think about labels?  Give your opininon.

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